The Stench of Constitutional Debate in Georgia

Words like constitution, constitutionality, constitutionalism, constitutionalist, constitutionalization, etc. have all of a sudden become more than trendy in Georgia. Such words are continuously heard from the glib, indiscriminate lips of journalists and politicians, having at the same time become the most commonplace part of our household vocabulary. We are all fed up of hearing and using these words but our attempts to free ourselves of them are ineffective – they stick, they simply stick.

What a heavenly time it was when we lived in God-blessed socialism! Of course, we had a constitution, but who cared? It was sitting, unbothered, somewhere in the depths of public libraries and offices of critical importance, covered with dust; not even reminding us of its existence. I treasure those peaceful times in my long memory of our unperturbed past, when freedom of word and democracy were not even issues, but at least, public discussions of the supreme law – if they ever happened – did not stink as much as they do nowadays.

Right now, the first and the utmost question is why public discussions of the new version of Georgia’s Constitution make sense in a situation where the final decision concerning the amended document will in any case be made by an absolute and invincible majority in the parliament. Why so much wasting of time, money and energy?! There is not even a vestige of doubt that things will happen only at the discretion of the ruling party, which, in addition to its technically guaranteed triumph in matters constitutional – and others, too – desires to have public approval of its political behavior, whatever that behavior might represent. It was said that the current parliamentary majority is trying to eschew the suggested plebiscite on the subject of constitutional optimization. But what if the people differ from them when interpreting the introduced changes?

There was also a talk about the presidential elections – whether direct by public or indirect by electors. This is also a waste of time because the President of Georgia, in his current status, is practically an impotent political figure, having nothing to do with the decision-making process. So, why should it make such a big difference who he is elected by – the outcome of his activity will be the same in either way. For instance, the president has the right to veto the parliamentary approval of the new constitutional text but his veto will be instantly overridden by the majority. So it appears that the presidential veto is not worth any effort at all.

Issues like political blocks and the distribution of stray votes, definition of marriage, testing time for judges, and finally the acutest issue of selling land to foreigners, are also being discussed in public-governmental get-togethers, although with no specific results or by actually influencing the text of the suggested document. After the politicians are done with those vain public discussions, the venue of controversy will move to parliamentary premises, where special sessions will be held in June to prepare the new text of the country’s constitution for voting sometime this coming October or November. And again, the consequence is not difficult to predict.

Some hopes for the right decisions are connected with the so-called Venice Commission, which is just an advisory body of the Council of Europe. The recommendations of its independent experts in the field of constitutional law will either be taken into consideration or not, and for ignoring them, no sanctions will follow that the Georgian parliamentary majority might suffer from. It is interesting that the Commission's official name is the European Commission for Democracy through Law. We truly need to enhance the quality of our democracy through law, which in the first place has to be reflected in the Constitution.

Now the point is whether we can do this in the stench-ridden constitutional environment we find ourselves in. I’m using this epithet only because all those ‘town meetings’ often stink politically so much that it becomes hard to stay there for long enough to see the relevant output. And here is why: in order to achieve enough constitutional correctness and suitability, we have to possess the appropriate constitutional logic. We have some, but it is shaky, and smelly, too, for that matter.

Nugzar B. Ruhadze

18 May 2017 18:26